|Original Published Date: December 9, 2016|
After winning 80 games in 2015, the Rays had a difficult season in 2016 winning only 68 games and finishing last in the AL East. Their hitting was one of the worst in the league, finishing third from last in batting average and on-base percentage and their usual reliable pitching fell to the middle-of-the-pact.
While you can point to a lot of reasons as to why the Rays stumbled, they clearly need impact bats and arms at the major league level. While I like their minor league system, it’s more of a middle-of-the-pack system with only two potential impact performers.
Willy Adames is the number one prospect and could be a Top five shortstop in the game. He’s showing speed and power and the ability to play a decent shortstop. Perhaps he will ease the wound of trading away Trea Turner in 2015 in the ill-advised trade that sent Wil Myers to San Diego and Steven Souza to the Rays.
Brent Honeywell is an interesting arm that should help the team next year. However, will he have a chance to see St. Petersburg or will the Rays keep him in the farm for another full year? Jacob Faria and Jacob Bauers could also see time in the major next year and while both could be nice pieces to the puzzle, I don’t see them as impact players.
What should the Rays do to put a winning team on the field? I think they need to draft better, stop making poor trades and spend a little money. Last year, only the Brewers spent less money than the Rays. While I get the whole small market team thing, with revenue sharing and a National TV contract, surely they are turning enough of a profit so they can spend money on a few impact players in free agency or through a trade.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 5 SS
Adames came into national prominence when he was the lead player in the deadline deal for David Price in 2014, at least that’s what then Ray GM Alex Friedman led us to believe. I didn’t believe it and consequently was not on the Adames bandwagon. Even last year, I ranked Casey Gillaspie ahead of him. While Gillaspie is a nice prospect and had a nice year, Adames just has more upside and I just didn’t see it.
He played the entire season in Double-A showing both pop and speed with excellent on-base skills. In 132 games, he slashed .272/.370/.428 with 11 home runs and 13 stolen bases. Most impressive is that he walked 74 times or 13% of the time. The Rays will likely move him to Triple-A for the entire 2017 season with a good chance to see Tampa in the second half of 2018.
Scouting Report: Adames is just starting to tap into his potential. He has plus bat speed and enough physicality that should allow him to hit for plus in-game power. What really took a step up was his ability to control the strike zone. His walk rate went up as did his ability to make contact. He’s shorter to the ball now and the improvements are indeed impressive.
Defensively, Adames should be able to stay at short long-term. He’s very athletic with a strong arm and excellent foot work.
Fantasy Impact: Adames is a Top 25 prospect and one of the better shortstop prospects in the game. His fantasy upside is a Top five shortstop with 20 HR/20 SB upside with a high batting average and on-base skills. Fantasy owners could be rewarded next year or at worst, in 2018.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
Brent Honeywell quietly had an excellent season across High and Double-A. In 20 starts he pitched to a 2.34 ERA striking out over a batter an inning while walking only 25 in 115.1 innings. His season was interrupted by a trip to the disabled list for what was diagnosed as “right arm tenderness”.
After 10 terrific starts in Double-A, one would argue that Honeywell should see the major leagues sometime in 2017. But he plays for the Rays and they don’t work that way. In fact, they might have him return to Double-A for a few more starts before starting him in Triple-A later in the season. Once in Triple-A, I expect him to spend most, if not the entire season there.
Scouting Report: As Honeywell has put on weight, his fastball has been ticking upwards. It’s now sitting 91 to 94 MPH and touching 95. His best secondary pitch is his screwball. It’s a great pitch, enhanced by the fact that nobody throws it and therefore, players just don’t see it that often. He also throws a curve ball which has improved from last year.
His pitching mechanics are free and easy to the plate. He has good balance but does not get a ton of extension to the plate – almost short arming his pitches. He easily repeats his delivery, partially because there is so little effort.
Fantasy Impact: Honeywell is one of the better pitching prospects in the game and should be rostered in all Dynasty Leagues. The big question is should you roster him for next year? I don’t think so as I believe the Rays will play their normal player-games and hold him back. However, for NFBC draft and holds, I would gamble late in the draft.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Corner Infielder or Top 60 OF
In 2014, we wrote an article called…”Kids that can really hit”. It profiled ten players, all under the age of 20 who had exceptional hit tools. Jake Bauers, then with San Diego, was one of those players. We loved the approach but were worried if the power would develop. This is what we wrote:
Jake Bauers is one of the youngest players in the Midwest League and controls the strike zone exceptional well. He doesn’t have premium bat speed but can take inside velocity deep when presented with the opportunity. Realistically, the ceiling is a James Loney type of producer but if the power develops, he could start to make some noise in prospect circles.
The “L” comp on any player is never a good thing. However, as Bauers has matured, he has started to hit for power. It’s never going to be plus power, but if he can pop 15 to 20 home runs annually, he’s going to be a valuable bat when you factor in the manner in which he controls the strike zone.
That was evident in Double-A this past season. In 135 games, he hit .274 with a .370 OBP and popping 14 home runs. He continued his impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio by posting a 1:1.21 strikeout-to-walk ratio which was in-line with his career average.
Finally, he logged 63 games in the outfield, which was his high watermark for his career. This is a significant development and if he can stay there, it will increase his value. One concern: most of the time he spent in the outfield was early in the year.
Scouting Report: In reading the introduction, I think I covered Bauers scouting report as well. In summary, he has a plus hit tool with an excellent approach that should give him a chance to hit .280 to .300 annually with 100 points on top of that for his on-base percentage. He doesn’t have great bat speed but is starting to add leverage to his swing which is resulting in more home runs. If it continues and I think it will, he could hit 20 home runs annually. He only has average speed but did steal 10 of 16 bases last year.
Fantasy Impact: Bauers is going to be a significant fantasy contributor for leagues that value OBP. For points leagues that use standard scoring, his value will not be as significant. I ultimately believe he’ll spend most of his time at first base, but hopefully as we saw with Brandon Belt, he’ll get enough games in the rightfield to achieve outfield eligibility. I think he’s a classic number two hitter, so for leagues that value runs scored, he could also be a significant contributor. While there are qualifications, all-in-all, I think he’ll help fantasy owners.
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF with risk
Taken as the 13th player in the 2015 MLB Draft, Garrett Whitley had a so-so year in 65 games in the NY Penn League. In fact, he was one of the few players selected in the first round of his draft class who did not make it to a full season affiliate. That said, there was a lot to like about his performance last year.
In those 65 games, he posted a .735 OPS with 20 stolen bases and 38 runs scored. He also showed very good plate patience by walking 10.5% of the time.
On the other side of the “-so” was his penchant for striking out, as in 24.7% of time. Teams seem to tolerate “power guys” who post a high strikeout rate, but for a kid who only hit one home run, it could prove to be a problem. The good news is that I believe there is power in his profile, so hopefully the power will develop and the strikeouts will reduce.
Scouting Report: Despite the so-so performance last season, Whitley continues to have loud tools that once he matures as a player should start to surface. His speed is already playing as he stole 20 of 25 bases last year. If you extend that out to a full season, that’s equates to a 50 stolen base pace. What hasn’t surface yet is his power. The bat speed is there but he’s rolling over too much, particularly on breaking pitches. The good news is that he just turns 20 next March and the Rays are comfortable with extended development cycles.
I still believe the upside is significant with a chance to be a 20 HR/20 SB performer. I might be a little optimistic on the power, but I’m comfortable in predicting that it will be at least double-digit power. Early in his career, he could steal 40 or more bases annually. Sometimes you have to believe what you see with your eyes and just ignore the box scores for now.
Fantasy Impact: Whitley’s value is down after his so-so year. Leverage that against other owners in your league to try and buy-low. I still believe the upside is a top 30 outfielder with a high OBP but with an average batting average.
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
Drafting 13th in the 2016 MLB Draft, the Rays selected Georgia high schooler Josh Lowe. He was a two-way player in high school but the Rays believed in the bat and drafted him as a third baseman. After he signed, they split his time equally between the GCL and Appy League and he performed very well. In 54 games, he posted a .779 OPS and showed an impressive understanding of the strike zone walking 37 times in 214 plate appearance or 17% of the time. He needs to cut down on his strikeouts but at 6-foot-4 and length in his swing, strikeouts might always be part of his game.
Scouting Report: Lowe’s carrying tool is his double-plus power. At 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, he’s long and lean and with his swing path, there will likely be swing and miss in his game. He’s also got the perfect size of a pitcher, which he was in high school, but the Rays decided to draft him as a positional bat. His arm strength will help him at third base but his size could be a problem and a move to the outfield could be in order. In fact, his power and arm strength would make him a prototypical right fielder.
Lowe is a bit of a project but the power upside could be double-plus in-game power or 30 plus home run potential. If he can maintain his plate discipline as he moves through the system and keep his strikeout rate to the mid-20’s, a .250/.350, batting average/on-base percentage should be doable. In today’s game, that’s an all-star.
Fantasy Impact: Lowe should be taken in the second round of all rookie drafts this coming spring. He’s likely four years away from the majors but his level of raw power doesn’t grow on trees. There isn’t a ton of speed, so stolen bases will not be a big part of the equation. He probably will not sneak into our Top 100 but instead will fall somewhere between 101 and 125.
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B
Casey Gillaspie gets very little love in prospects circles, yet all he’s done over the last three years in the minor leagues is post an .829 OPS. Sure, his high watermark in home runs was last year with 18, but that was accomplished in splitting time between Double and Triple-A. Plus, he did it by getting on-base at a .388 clip.
Perhaps Brad Miller will stay at first next season, but maybe he moves back to short or even to the outfield. I think at some point we see Casey Gillaspie spending time at first in Tampa with a good chance to stay there long-term.
Scouting Report: As stated above, I’ve been higher on Gillaspie than most. Sure, he’s a first base only prospect and therefore he’ll have to hit to see the big leagues, but I’m convinced he will. He has plus raw power that is starting to translate into in-game production. As a switch hitter, he looks better from the left side. However, the power plays well on either side with a shorter swing than you would expect from a 6-foot-4 player. He doesn’t have elite bat speed, but has enough to combine with country raw power to project 25 plus home runs annually. It’s also not all pull-side power. This is becoming increasing important in the modern game as teams will not be able to rely on the defensive shift to contain him.
He also controls the strike zone well and should be able to post a contact rate of 80% and a walk rate of 10%. That should allow him to have a batting average of .270 to .280. He’s a well below average runner, so stolen bases will not be part of the equation.
Fantasy Impact: The ceiling for Gillaspie is a middle of the order hitter with 25 home run upside, batting .270 with a .340 on-base percentage. In today’s fantasy game, that will play very well. Others will downshift on him because he’s a first baseman. While I get it from a baseball perspective, we care less about defense from the fantasy game.
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
Adrian Rondon graduates from our 2016 Emerging Prospect to a spot on the main list. While you still have to dream on the talent translating into a positive stat line, at 17-years-old, he held his own in the Appy League this past season. In 52 games, he slashed .254/.306/.435 with seven home runs. He struck out too much and only walked once a week, so there is clearly work to do, but again, at 17, posting a .741 OPS is pretty impressive.
Scouting Report: Rondon’s carrying tool is plus bat speed which combined with his physicality, should allow him to hit for plus future power. While he wasn’t able to control the strike zone well, he does have an idea of what he is doing at the plate. In fact, his approach is what led the Rays to start him in the Apply League last season instead of return back to the GCL. In fact, that is so un-Rays like, that the promotion should not be taken likely. Teams know their players best and the confidence the Rays showed in him should be under-estimated.
Defensively, Rondon’s is 50/50 on staying at short. He’s not fast nor does he have great quickness, so in the end, it might be best to move him to third where he skills will play better. However, teams usually keep players at short for as long as possible so they can keep them comfortable and not worry about a new position as well as keeping their trade value high.
Fantasy Impact: Rondon will likely miss our Top 100 but by only a few spots. He should be owned in all Dynasty Leagues that roster 150 or more minor leaguers. The ceiling is a .260 batting average with 30 plus home runs, hitting in the middle of a lineup.
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
Despite an ERA that bordered on a 4-handle, Jacob Faria had another very nice season across Double and Triple-A. In 27 starts, he threw 151 innings, struck out well over a batter an innings while walking 4.1 per nine. The control clearly backed up last season after he averaged less than three walks per nine in his previous five seasons.
He doesn’t have top-of-rotation stuff but knows how to pitch and at 6-foot-4 and a listed 200 pounds, has the size to log heavy innings. He’s on the Rays 40-man roster and should get the call sometime in 2017 to join the big club.
Scouting Report: Faria is primarily a fastball/change-up pitcher. His fastball sits 91 to 93 MPH (T95) with enough downward plane that batters do not make solid contact. He’s worked hard on keeping his two-seamer down and has become a solid ground-ball pitching, posting a 1.9 ground-out-to-air-out ratio.
His change-up is a plus current offering, thrown from the same arm slot as his fastball, where he’s able to get swings and misses from both righties and lefties. His curve ball still remains a work-in-progress.
Fantasy Impact: Faria should see considerable time in Tampa in 2017 and has the stuff and pitchability to be good enough to roster on a fantasy team. There is high strikeout potential but his walk rate could inflate his ratios.
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
Chih-Wei Hu was traded by the Twins in 2015 in a deadline deal for Kevin Jepsen. While the trade went under-the-radar in prospect circles, I’ve always liked Hu and believe he has a chance to be a number four major league starter, if not more.
He spent most of his time in Double-A last season, but did get a spot start in Triple-A Durham in April. He had a very solid season in 24 starts for Montgomery. In 142.2 innings, he posted a 2.59 ERA with 107 strikeouts and only 36 walks. He also gave up fewer hits (127) than innings pitched and gave up only seven home runs. He’s doesn’t have dominate stuff but throws strikes and relies on his defenders to pick him up.
Scouting Report: I had a chance to see Hu pitch last year in Florida and was really impressed with his overall game. Here’s what I wrote back in May…
Hu is a sturdy 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds with a three, perhaps a four pitch mix if you separate his change-up from his splitter. His fastball sits 91 to 93 MPH but when he needs something extra, can dial it up to 95 MPH. Despite being only 6-foot-1, he does get decent plane on the pitch and is able to locate it in the bottom half of the zone. He throws an 11 to 5 curve ball that grades out as above-average because he’s able to effectively throw it for strikes. His money pitch is a plus, perhaps double-plus change-up/splitter. It’s the pitch that had Florida State League batters swinging and missing with regularity.
I think the scouting report still fits. While he’s not a top-of-the-rotation talent, he can really pitch and I think will be very effective once he makes his big league debut.
Fantasy Impact: Hu is not owned in many Dynasty Leagues but given his closeness to the majors and the Rays penchant for getting the most out of the players, I would be adding him in Dynasty Leagues that roster 200 or more minor league prospects. The upside is a number 4 pitcher for your fantasy team with 6.5 to 7 strikeouts per nine and very good ratios.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 OF
I had a chance to see Justin Williams in two games during the Arizona Fall League and every time he went up to the plate, I said the same thing to myself…”Man, that guy looks like a player”. I liked the body, the swing, and the fielding. The only thing I didn’t care for was he swung at everything.
When I got back to the hotel that evening, I looked up what he had done last season. In 90 games across High and Double-A, he hit .295 with 10 home runs, great contact at 84% but only walked 11 times. The walk rate was indeed impressive and actually hard to do…that’s less than once a week.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Williams does have an athletic body with plus raw power that is just starting to show up in games. He makes very good contact but is very aggressive at the plate. If he can post a .361 BABIP like he did in the Florida State League, that might play, but ultimately he needs to tone down his swing so that he can post an OBP above .300. If he can, I think he’ll be a regular major league contributor. If not, he’s an extra bat at best.
Fantasy Impact: Williams should not be owned in a Dynasty League outside of an Only-League format. I’ve included him in my Top 10 because I was so impressed with the swing and the overall look. There’s plus raw and a nice swing. If he can learn some plate patience, there might be something there.
2017 Emerging Prospect
In his first season in affiliated ball in the US, Jesus Sanchez played great, hitting .329 with seven home runs and two stolen bases. He has plus power, runs well (he stole 8 bases in the DSL last summer) and make very good contact. He also swings at everything and only walked nine times last season. However, at 18-years-old, we can look past that a little. There’s a ton of talent with a chance to be a Top 100 prospect in the minor leagues in a couple of years.